Sunday, February 15, 2015

Rhoda's Story

Rhoda's  teenage shoulders bounced slyly as she tried to suppress the giggles.  Salome's humor was irresistibly ensnaring. Her whispered remark to Rhoda had set the two friends both to laughing, but not out loud. This was no time for silliness. Rhoda would not allow herself to glance at the freckled face sitting next to her, but Salome's knee touching hers was quivering.  Straining against the next spasm of laughter, her mind was sternly scolding her lack of self-control. She knew the seriousness of the occasion. The leader of their house church had been incarcerated. His death was likely ; heartless authorities despised them and their beliefs in Jesus Christ, Messiah, raised from the dead. A large group had gathered here at her mistress Mary's house to pray for God to somehow intervene and spare his life. She and Salome both worked as maids for Mary and were both believers. Earlier when the guests had arrived, the girls had ushered them in, noting the quiet somberness on each face. How irreverent to be so distracted by silly thoughts!

But the meeting was long.  She and Salome were at the back of the crowd, near the hallway to the outside door, and it was hard to hear the voices offering prayers. Some were barely whispers, others were choked with emotion . "God forgive me", she thought, trying to force her thoughts into the fervency of praying.

Then she heard the quiet knocking at the door.  She nudged Salome. Her heart beat faster. A late night visitor seldom brought good news.  Church gatherings were kept as low key as possible; members were at risk of being harassed and taken in for questioning. Rhoda braced herself for a forceful entry, but when nothing further happened she relaxed a bit, hoping whoever had been there was now gone. Both girls again bowed their heads.

But the quiet knocking was back. Rhoda shivered. She would have to answer the door.  If the stranger knocked louder it might disrupt the meeting.  It was also her duty to open the door to visitors and greet them on behalf of her mistress. When she knew their mission in coming she could properly announce their arrival.
Trembling, she grabbed Salome and they both began walking gingerly through the hallway towards the door.

Rhoda opened the door slightly and tried to recognize the image of the shadowy figure standing there in the moonlight. The figure spoke. Surely, she must by stricken by fear and apprehension. She was seeing Peter, the leader they were praying for. Her reasoning argued with her eyes.  Yet she had no doubt that it was Peter. Overwhelmed with the news she possessed, she closed the door, and ran through the hallway, Salome close behind.

"Peter is at the door", she announced exuberantly. Startled faces looked towards the disruption. Rhoda saw their incredulous expressions and then felt the sting of rejection as one after another shook their heads and looked towards their hostess for assessment of Rhoda's inappropriate outburst. Her mistress chuckled softly and said to all, "It must be his ghost."  There was a murmur of laughter. Then she continued, "What a tale, Rhoda! You may leave the room now! We will talk later." Rhoda caught Salome's puzzled expression as she turned to leave.  Rhoda then stopped.  They had to know the truth, and Peter was waiting outside. Looking at Mary she boldly asked,  "Please go look for yourself, madam.  It is Peter.  I insist." Mary, paused for a moment, surprised by Rhoda's impudence. The room grew quiet and the distinct sound of Peter's persistent rapping broke into the silence. Uncertainty clashed with optimism as the occupants weighed the absurdity of  Rhoda's words against the reality of the presence on the other side of the door.

The mistress of the house strode resolutely to the door determined to end the disruption. Many followed her. As the door opened, Peter pressed inside and closed the door quickly behind him. Joy overcame disbelief as many rushed into the hallway and swarmed Peter with questions and touches of affection. He held up his hand for silence as they all gathered back into the larger room.

Peter related the incredible story of his miraculous release from prison, completed with help from God's angel.  The group of believers listened, awestruck. Then someone apologized to Peter, on behalf of them all, for their lack of faith, even while praying.  He forgave them freely, but his eyes were searching the room. They all waited, sensing there was something he needed.  As Peter found her eyes, Rhoda looked down, confused by all the emotions tumbling inside her. She had shamed Peter by shutting the door in his face. Even though she had been right in announcing his arrival, the others had belittled her. Her mistress had rebuked her publicly.  She was also excited that Peter was safe and among them. It all felt mixed up inside and she wanted to cry.

Peter then walked towards her.  His hand found her chin. He gently inched her face upwards. Then he spoke softly, "You believed it was me, from the first glance.  The others struggled to believe your words, but they also had a boost to their faith when they realized God had answered their prayers. It just took them a little longer.  Forgive them, as I have, and thank you for answering my knock.  It took courage for you to do that and boldness to speak out on my defense. I commend you my daughter. You are released from any condemnation. Your part in this awesome night of miracles will be remembered forever."  Rhoda's eyes filled with grateful tears. Love for the God who once again had been her defender and helper felt warm and comforting. Love for her community swelled inside, too. She knew that the strength of their oneness with her and each other would give them courage and hope for whatever the future held.

I have recently been studying the book of Acts in a bible study group. I've always been fascinated by this story.  I didn't know where it was headed or how it would end as I began writing.  I am blessed with the tenderness of God in caring about Rhoda's heart in the events of the evening and Peter's personal words to her. I was reminded of Jesus' words about the woman who poured the expensive perfume on his head.  "Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”  (Mark 14:9)  All these years since, these stories have been preserved.   Stories of real people, with feelings like ours. Someday we will be able to listen to each other recount our stories and retell His-story in us.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Revival Up Close and Personal

I was grasping the stair railing to go down, when someone asked, "Didn't I see you at the meeting last night?"  I turned to see our maintenance man directing his question to me.  I quickly thought back to where I had been the night before and responded by acknowledging that I had been at the meeting, but had missed seeing him there. We excitedly began sharing notes of what the speaker said and how we hoped for revival there on the campus where we both worked. Our amazement was mutual in considering the numbers of people coming to the meetings and how meals were served every night. I discovered he and his wife pastored a church in a neighboring town. The revival was bringing pastors together across all denominations and flavors of believers.  Even the Amish in our community are coming to the nightly gatherings.

We ended our God encounter and I returned to my desk. What is God up to?, I questioned again. What a privilege to be a part of Revive Indiana, here in my hometown!

Twenty-six days ago a revival team from Texas, led by Kyle Martin, came to a church in town to stir up believers for evangelism and love for their community.  Their original intent to stay for one week, was altered by God's request that they stay for 52 days. Every evening, except Sunday, a meeting brings thousands together for praise and worship, messages from area pastors, testimonies and a word from Scripture by Kyle. During the day groups gather for breakfast and go out in teams of 4 to pray for churches in our county. After lunch together, they go out again to pray for individuals wherever God leads--stores, businesses, schools, houses... and to share the Gospel message.  God is working through healings, breaking down barriers between churches, moving school administration to allow youth to leave during the school day to be a part of the crews going out to pray, bringing brand new souls into the kingdom, and moving our hearts to love him and others more....enough to get out of our comfort zones and share the Good News.

Kyle's messages have challenged us to get our personal lives right with God, count the cost of obedience, expect tests of faith, and to pray against the religious spirit in our community.  He models for us a heart of humility, passion for sharing God's love with the hurting and needy, and making personal sacrifices to be here for this long stretch of time, away from family and other obligations of ministry.

I'm excited to see where God is taking us.  I want to be changed. One of the worship songs expresses my desire:
Light a fire down in my soul
That I can't contain and I can't control.
I want more of you, God, I want more of you.

I pray this gives you hope that our God has not forgotten the prayers of his people for revival. Keep praying for us in this time and for you and your community.  Pray that God would grow your heart in love for people. Pray for opportunities to pray for anyone who God leads you to and then if their heart is open, to let them know who Jesus is.What a simple way to approach someone, "How can I pray for you?"

There is so much to make us sad or even fearful about this world. What better way to combat the negativity than by focusing on the good news that we believe, and sharing it. I'm also involved in a Bible study right now on the book of Acts.  As I read Paul's passion to go and share the Gospel, I can see a modern day illustration of this same Holy Spirit who moved Paul, working among us to go and preach the gospel, make disciples. Won't you join us?

The Song- a Book Review

The Song was written as a follow up to a movie by the same name. The story isn’t new---a young performer rises to the top and can’t resist the temptations and demons associated with stardom. He falls hard, but comes back to faith and the long, slow process of restoration. Meanwhile his wife and son bear the consequences of his choices. Forgiveness won’t come easily.

In spite of the predictability of the story, the narrative kept my attention and drew me into the hearts and minds of the main characters. The love that draws Jed and Rose together is sweet and tender just like the Song he writes for her. The Song , alive with passion, quickly becomes a hit in Jed’s climb to fame.  When temptress, Shelly, joins the performance, there isn’t much hope that it will remain Jed’s love song to Rose.  The path to Jed’s destruction is slow and progressive.  It is painful to watch the chasm grow between Jed and Rose.

The book’s foreward, by Kyle Idleman, author of Not a Fan, shares the background for the story and the hope that it will portray God’s unfailing love and the beauty and strength of the love between man and woman.  The story is inspired from the Song of Solomon in the Old Testament.  Without being told this was a Song of Solomon story, I would not have made that connection just from reading the book. 

The text is engaging and flows well. The characters are believable, as are the pressures in the music industry. Chris Fabry’s storytelling challenges readers to guard our hearts against the temptations that can tear apart marital love. This story should also be a call to Christ followers to pray for Christian artists who balance work with family and for them to resist the pull to compromise the message of His story in order to pursue wealth and fame. 

Fabry has written other books for youth and adults. I am interested in reading more from this author.

I received a complimentary copy of the book for review purposes from Tyndale House.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Musing on a Snowy Day

Watching snow sideways fall,
feeling cozy inside,
Wanting to write, but stuck,
Wanting inspiration, but
feeling a bit blase,

I know you are alive in me, Lord.
Yet I'm so aware of me
My agenda, my desires
and often I forget to invite you in.
Speak, for I'm now listening.

You dwell in the praises of your people,
Thanks I offer then, for all the gifts you give.
Shelter from which to view the snow,
Time to make Pinterest recipes, & eat them!
Texting to those I love.

Neighbors who can still come over later
for Super Bowl festivities,
A middle-of-the-night rendezvous with You with
Confessions, Forgiveness, Desires,
The sweetness of your presence.

For Revive Indiana, your Holy Spirit moving,
Churches uniting, believers being equipped
to go out and pray together for whosoever,
Thousands gathering every night to worship,
Living in the revival Here! Now!

Jobs that provide, family to love,
Companionship, friendships,
Health, how You made me and
how your purposes for me give me
Hope and a future to anticipate.

The privilege to pray for the couple
Who want answers for their marriage,
For the friend who is recovering from surgery,
For elderly parents, for grandchildren.
For more of you in me, a heart surrendered.

But as for me, it is good to be near God.
    I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge;
    I will tell of all your deeds. Ps. 73:28